Brantley's Homer Wins It in the Thirteenth for Astros

Michael Brantley had been in a slump until Thursday when he walked it off.
Michael Brantley had been in a slump until Thursday when he walked it off. Photo by Jack Gorman
Thursday night at Minute Maid Park was...weird.

Starter Wade Miley, who had the third best ERA in the American League was knocked out in the first inning after giving up five runs without recording an out. The Astros were down five after one, seven after two. In the eighth, down 8-5, Jose Altuve hit a two-run triple and was driven home with Michael Brantley's sac fly to tie the game.

If that weren't odd enough, after only striking out once through the first eight innings, Mariners relievers struck out nine of the next ten Astros and took a lead on Kyle Seager's second home run of the night, an opposite field shot off Josh James that just barely cleared the wall into the Crawford Boxes.

But, the Astros weren't done. Kyle Tucker, who had gotten his first major league home run earlier in the night got a two-strike, two-out RBI single to score Myles Straw, who pinch ran for Yuli Gurriel after he walked.

Finally, in the bottom of the thirteenth after a walk to Jake Marisnick and a strikeout of Altuve, Brantley came on and crushed a homer to deep right field for his career-tying twentieth home run of the season to win it 11-9. The veteran outfielder, who had been in a mild slump, broke his trademark stoicism with a wide grin and a leaping celebration at home plate.

It was the capper to an absolutely bizarre night that included the use of 15 relievers eating up 22 total innings for both teams.

Compounding matters was plate umpire Joe West whose wildly inconsistent strike zone, particularly in the lower third, kept pitchers and hitters guessing all night. At least he was consistent in the sense that neither team had a clue what he was going to call.

Fortunately, it worked out for the Astros, who picked up their 91st win of the season and are now 24-2 at home against teams from the AL West. They maintained a nine-game lead on Oakland and preserved a one-game deficit for the best record in baseball behind the Yankees.

Still, it will put pressure on Friday's starter Framber Valdez, who will need to chew up as many innings as possible with the bullpen so overextended on Thursday. The 'Stros will get Justin Verlander fresh off his no hitter on Saturday and Gerrit Cole on Sunday in this four-game series.

The offense will need to continue to batter Seattle pitching as well and do so without George Springer for at least one more game while he remains under observation after suffering a concussion.

But, you can't argue with the results on one of the weirder games of the season. Perhaps no other game has been as clear an example of not how you start but how you finish. For the Astros, it took nearly everything they had, but a win is a win, even under such strange circumstances. 
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Jeff Balke is a writer, editor, photographer, tech expert and native Houstonian. He has written for a wide range of publications and co-authored the official 50th anniversary book for the Houston Rockets.
Contact: Jeff Balke